“UNTIL ONE HAS LOVED AN ANIMAL, PART OF THEIR SOUL REMAINS UNAWAKENED”(author unknown)
Just when I thought I had heard every possible reason why people call in to reorder CDs or sheet music that they had previously owned (lost it, loaned it to a friend who didn’t return it, stepped on it), I picked up the business phone recently and heard this: “I borrowed your latest CD and Songbook, ‘The Book of Mormon Has Come Forth’ from my friend and I need to order replacements quick because my dog ate them!” I could understand about the book, but she assured me the dog had also opened the CD and chewed it up. As I wrote down her order, I silently wondered why one would keep such a dog, but it didn’t take me long to recall several such untoward incidents in the lives of our own pets that were every bit as unforgivable, and yet we forgave them because we just loved them too much to do otherwise. This sister was trying to keep the dog alive until her daughter returned from college; we have tried to keep ours alive until children returned from their missions (not always successfully).
My Childhood Pet History
My first pet recollection is of my brother Jack’s black weiner dog Jo-Jo in Ogden, Utah. One day just as Jack returned from school Jo-Jo was hit by a car and was lying lifeless in the street. Mother was trying to comfort Jack and help him understand that his dog was dead, but Jack knelt down by Jo-Jo and offered a heartfelt prayer, picked him up and took him into the house, saying emphatically to all who had gathered: “He is not dead!” No one felt like challenging his child-like faith. Jo-Jo was soon up and walking and remained with us for a few more years.
When I was eight, our family and two of my uncles’ families moved to farms in Vale, Oregon, to homestead, provide church leadership, raise crops and animals and especially hardy children.
We needed “mousers” out on the farm to keep the mouse population down and had up to 24 outdoor cats at one time, but I never considered them pets, and had one traumatic experience with them that colored my view of cats for life. Mother and I put six newly-weaned kittens in our car and started to drive to my Uncle’s Clarence’s farm some two miles away because he needed more mousers.These cats went absolutely berserk in the car and were scratching, clawing and hissing and it scared me terribly. I screamed for Mother to stop the car and just let them out but she just drove faster determined to get them to my uncle’s house. I was badly scratched and crying and rather traumatized by the time we delivered the cats and have never felt comfortable around cats since that day.
But we had a pretty little white and tan border collie, Ben, on the farm and we all loved him dearly.
My job was to go to the pasture to bring the cows in for milking in the late afternoon and he was good company. I also loved to sit in the haystack with him during good weather months and just talk to him and stroke him. Dogs listen patiently, they never interrupt you, and they give you an encouraging lick on the cheek now and then just to let you know that what you’re saying is important to them. Sadly, Ben’s hind quarters were run over by a tractor just before Christmas andhe could hardly walk. It was heartbreaking. He held on just long enough for Jack to make it home from BYU for Christmas vacation and died in his arms shortly thereafter. That was the first time I knew how painful it could be to lose a pet.
My Pet History after Marriage
For the first ten years of our marriage, while Doug was studying at BYU and Indiana University, we lived in apartments where house pets were not allowed, so we had to improvise with goldfish, hamsters and Preying Mantises to give the kids experiences with some of the creatures of this earth. Stories abound about those hamsters, but I digress. We moved out of married student housing and into a small rental home in Bloomington, Indiana, where pets were allowed.
Our first family dog was a black miniature poodle. We spent a whole Family Night submitting names and finally settling on one: Penelope (“Penny” for short) Everyone was pretty excited about having an indoor pet but I quickly learned that it is a whole different and bigger commitment to have a pet who lives in the house! I don’t think we ever completely trained that dog and in some ways it was a pain to deal with her but she nevertheless was beloved by one and all, including two foster children we had added to our own four.
A year later, Penny was about to deliver puppies and, because it was happening in the middle of the night, we awakened all six children so they would not miss the blessed event. They all sat in silent awe as three beautiful black puppies made their entrance into the world. Naming three puppies was quite the process, but as we got to know the personalities of the pups we settled on Patrick, Patience and Pestilence (2 males, one female) and they pretty much ruled our lives for a few months. Then we received news that my father was dying in Utah and we made the decision to pack up and move home immediately. Friends helped us accomplish the move in two days.
Again we knew we were moving to an apartment in Logan, Utah where no house pets were allowed so we would have to leave our pets behind. We drove to Chicago where my mother-in-law knew of an especially nice dog shelter, and left our pets in the care of a very kind lady there, and headed out for our new life back in Utah. The children were surprisingly calm about giving up their pets. I had a harder time.
Two years (and many hamster experiences) later, we were able to purchase our first home and that of course was followed by our yearning for another house pet. As I recall we bought our little toy poodle for Steve’s twelfth birthday, but of course Priscilla (“Prissy” for short) felt like she belonged to all the family. I kept my distance from her a bit knowing how it can hurt to lose pets, but she kept sleeping next to my leg or my back, curling up on my lap, and following me everywhere—what was I going to do, I couldn’t resist. In my youth I had laughed at people who babied their tiny dogs, even speaking baby talk to them. Now I found myself doing it! (Mostly when we were alone though.)
When we moved to Provo she came along with us, of course. We decided to have her bred by a thoroughbred toy poodle whose name I have never forgotten: Velvet Valentino. Such a grand name for such a teeny tiny dog! When her puppy was born, I was feeling every contraction with her. The puppy was not breathing at first so we called the vet who talked us through a massage procedure which finally brought the pup to life.